What I learned shooting fish in a barrel.
Since my fascination with photography began, I have coveted trips to Sanctuaries, Zoos and Parks. Though many may have objections ethically or just feel like It's shooting fish in a barrel with no tracking, no months/years of invested time and no finesse- I happen to thoroughly enjoy time at these establishments.
To those that may object ethically I need only point towards the research and conservation side of these establishments to help swing the ethical pendullum back in favour. Research, documentation, breeding programs and re integration programs are commonplace.
I have not yet had the pleasure of camping in the bush for months on end to capture the perfect animal at the perfect moment. I very much hope to do so one day. However I have found even the Zoos Sanctuaries and Wildlife Parks require a little more than just a run through the park on Auto followed by a quick stop at the gift shop on the way out.
I found for instance that this eagle was nowhere to be seen on my first 3 circuits of the Ballarat Wildlife Park. Had I left after my third round a would leave not even been able to say for sure that there was anything in the large netted aviary. On my fourth round the bird was front and centre.
I wonder how many times I've cut only one lap in places like this and not realised the opportunities that would have presented had I persisted a few more rounds.
On my second lap the dingos had changed from lying on the ground around the gate like common street dogs, to one dingo showing the dexterity of a true wild Australian hunter.
Found this guy extreemly animated on my last circuit. I was genuinely shocked at the change of behaviour.
There were a lot of Koala posts and there was access to them at many angles. Statistically I should have found something quickly. This too was on my final lap.
This wonderful lizard was the opposite to the rest. Present and personable during my first circuit and absent for the rest of the day.
A kangaroo from inside the koala viewing station took a few circuits to become comfortable with me and my 20 month old traveling companion.
At the end of it all its not all about getting great shots of my favourite animals. Its not about trying to get the frame and moment that helps describe an animal's character. Its about spending time with my daughter, giving her the opportunity to grow an affection and an affinity with nature. I can't wait in till she's old enough to use a camera.
WARNING: Post contains graphic imagery that may offend.
All content displayed on this post is for documentary purposes and serves only to showcase significant cultural elements observed whilst traveling in Nepal.
It has been a shamefully long time since I last posted on this blog despite the fact I love it and have visited and drafted often. The problem is a combination of being extra busy at home and at work so much so I have even let go of some photography jobs because I know I wont be able to give them the attention they deserve. I hesitate to post for many reasons but at some stage you just have to go forward and get on with it. If I have little time for it now it won't get any better soon.
This piece of writing reflects my time in Nepal in July this year having touched down in Kathmandu, dropped off bags at hotel, and legged it to a special needs school to document some donations being provided on behalf of a Ballarat primary school and facilitated by Aussie Action Abroad. This meant that my first morning in Nepal consisted of walking the dusty streets of Kathmandu in awe of the narrow spaces with their juxtaposition of ornate and dilapidated, and then what would be one of my most significant moments on the trip... a visit to a holy Hindu destination by the name of Pashupatinath.
Located 3 km Northwest of Kathmandu, Pashupatinath is the largest temple complex in Nepal with around 490 temples and 27 shrines. Though only very early in the trip it was clear this particular experience was always going to leave an indelible impression upon me. I have not seen nor have I ever personally experienced grief and loss practiced so calmly-so methodically and in such a holistically beautiful way.
The place is a hive of activity and ritual. Many onlookers watch as the bodies of their loved ones are washed, prepared and then cremated on the banks of the river.
Making our way through the entrance of the complex, smoke hung thick in the air. The herbaceous aroma was a persistent presence lingering throughout my entire experience. I almost immediately noted that surprisingly, the smoke did not smell of burning flesh, rather it was a woody, herbaceous smell and from my perspective, was very much a welcomed alternative. I once was told a story by a friend that lived in Carlton during the gangland murders in the 90's and 2000's. He recounted a time stepping onto his veranda and having his hunger aroused by the smell of BBQ only to find out later that day that a mobster had burned out in a car behind his place. I have no idea the validity of the tale but the idea of smelling the burning human remains was my most dreaded anticipation, and an unwarrented one thank goodness!
Dedicated to the Lord Shiva, Pashupatinath holds a place of religious significance being one of the four most important religious sites for devotees of Shiva in all of Asia. Certainly, it was clear from the large contingency of locals acting out their daily routines and performing their vital religious rituals as well as the swathe of foreign and local onlookers, it was a special place.
Of course it is almost a given that a place that holds such religious and cultural significance is going to draw the rest of the world's curious eyes, as it had drawn mine. So I was not at all surprised to find a sophisticated arrangement for locals employing various skills/services in order to benefit from the great number of tourists. This included market stalls, beggars, grifters, informal guides (making it very difficult to say no to) not to mention the incorporation of an entry fee for foreigners and the implementation of pre-arranged fees for Sadhu participation in photos ect. There were food stalls, palm readers, kids selling fairy floss and men on rugs selling trinkets. Of course the hustle and bustle at the temple was made up of more than just the grifters and merchants. Children were at play throughout the complex- casually taking the trash choked Bagmati river water up in their mouths despite its well known pollution issues. A disturbed woman threatening to attack passers by with a stick, a strange man at with his hands down his pants surrounded by a sea of hostile monkeys. Pashupatinath is one of eight United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation's Cultural heritage sites of the Kathmandu valley and is one of the few not damaged or destroyed by the 2015 earthquakes. The site has been constructed along both banks of the holy Bagmati river. Rhesus macaques are prevalent throughout the complex. The place is alive with chirps, ticks and hisses of monkeys at war and at play. An article in the Himalayan Times published June 19 2017- just 10 days before my arrival, claims that the monkeys are in danger as there is limited food there and monkeys that drink the polluted Bagmati river water are losing an unhealthy amount of weight. Keeping that in mind I was much more concerned for the children swimming in the river.
The main Pagoda style temple (located on the western bank of the river)is adorned with gilded bunk roof with a golden spire and the building is littered with ornate wood carvings. Cremation of Hindus can be observed on raised stone platforms along the river.
What becomes evident very quickly in Pashupatinath is its significance as being one of very few living cultural heritage sites. Unlike a museum or other famous cultural sites of the world, Pashupatinath is vibrant and bustling. Pashupatinath is heavily used throughout the day, every day for rituals and as the final pilgrimage point for many hindu followers. There is a steady flow of elderly devotees of hinduism arriving to spend the last weeks of their lives, to then die and lastly be cremated on the banks of the holy Bagmati river where, in times past, their ashes would travel downstream to eventually meet the holy river Ganges. These devotees believe that those that die in temple are reborn as a human being despite any transgressions from their previous life that might otherwise negatively have affected their karma.
It is a Hindu tradition for the dead to be cremated on there banks of the Bagmati river. It is seen as the ultimate outcome for a Hindu to be cremated along the river bank.
The body must be dipped in the river three times before cremation.
The chief mourner (in most cases the eldest son of the deceased) will light the funeral pyre and take a bath in the holy river water as soon as the cremation is complete. Relatives of the deceased also join in bathing or sprinkling themselves with river water.
It is generally preferred that the ashes be gathered and kept in an urn and disposed of during a special year-end ceremony. After the cremation, family members embark on an 11 day mourning period. During this time they are restricted from eating certain vegetables and meats, allowed in white dress only and avoid adorning themselves in anything leather. On the 10th day of this mourning period, a priest will begin a ceremony to invoke and worship gods and goddesses in the name of the deceased.
It was a privilege to see such a beautiful part of Nepali culture. It fills me with a tremendous sense of good will for the people of this beautiful land, that they would share with us this most sacred of things. I will forever be grateful for the generosity of those that gave me the opportunity to come and for the help and donations of friends and family that helped me to have such an exquisite experience.
In a few days time I will be headed to Nepal taking photographs for Aussie Action Abroad. For 14 days I will move through various projects with a small group of photographers to document the great work that Aussie Action Abroad are facilitating in the country. Going on this trip provides me with a way to give something of myself to others. It is also a place to learn photography skills from knowledgeable peers, and lastly it is an opportunity to be in front of some incredible landscapes and intriguing faces.
To date to get me to Nepal I have relied very heavily on there generosity of others. My sister, my friends and other family have supported me with donations. As is expected by anyone that knows her, my biggest champion, my partner Kate, created and sold dinosaurs with succulent plants growing from them. She created a clothes swap and cake day from the cafe I work at with help from her friend Flo. Friends of my partner Kate as well as many of her Aunts and family have also helped with participation and purchases and donations. I have sold two of my guitars. I was astonished to find old high school friends I haven't seen for 19 years contributed as well as the local radio station staff at 3ba and Power FM had created a Mexican lunch day to raise money for trip. With that said it has come right down to the line and I'm relying on the pay check I'll receive the day we leave to get me to Nepal which makes each and every person's contribution so far that much more crucial. People's kinds and generosity has astounded me. I'm so proud to be a part of this team and I can't wait to do everyone proud.
Some of the dinosaurs Kate has sold to raise funds to get to Nepal.
Tireless efforts of family members are converting old family slides to a digital format.
I wonder if anyone in the family makes light of the fact that I invariably turn up to any and all family events with at least 1 camera. For my daughter's first birthday earlier this year it was film, most other occasions its a digital and sometimes there's a bag with a few! I don't like the predictable. I hate to think I'm in danger of becoming a caricature of myself. Not enough NOT to bring one though. Life can change for all of us in an instant. A recent death in the family is a new and painful reminder of the incredible weight of loss. Having only one surviving grandparent and having lost both my parents by the age of 24, my connection with my family history is tenuous. Having only a 40 page document my dying father wrote and some anecdotes from his now 93 year old mother as well as the odd story from an Aunty or Uncle, the chances of getting to the heart of these lost loved ones is literally getting harder by the day. How wonderful it was to discover that my aunty had produced a USB full of pictures taken by my grandfather, who passed away in 1991.
Of course as I rejoice with these welcomed additions fill in my family narrative, it is alas only half the story. My grandparents on my mother's side having passed away by the time I was 18, and having the added complexity of recent migration from the Ukraine in the 1950's post second world war.
I want my family to know me. I want my family to know that no matter what happens to me in the future that I was there, I observed I laughed and most of all that I loved. I feel a sense just looking at my granddad's photos, an impression of the man I had long forgotten. Particularly his good humour and a sense of fun.
So if I happen to be the father, step father, uncle or son in law that is always looking through the lens of something then I'm probably ok with it. If I can answer half the questions my grandfather Jack has with his digital slide cache then I'll have achieved something.
This week google has adjusted a banner on their Nik website announcing that they have halted development on their Nik software. This software was not long ago purchased by google (around 5 years ago), and was pilfered for any valuable code. To most folks surprise the $500 software was then offered for free last year. This is where your truly 'the cheapskate' enters the story. I download and explore the programs integrating them into photoshop and lightroom. I would never have risked purchasing the software at $500 (not that I have that money) especially as I already have the Adobe arsenal at my disposal but hearing the online community a buzz with the voices of frustration and jubilation with the newly available free software I worked it through my Adobe systems and was immediately entertained by the results. Particularly Novel effects like dirt, grit and dust- desaturation of colour and old camera and film emulations. It wasn't high-brow but it was fun. It wasn't worth $500 to me but it did get a lot of use from me I have to admit. I also admit that the parts I have used and understood is the tip of the iceberg. I have very little idea of the true Power of the software and it has been my intention to learn this software one program at a time. This is where it gets tricky... what to do...
There is nothing I can do that some time soon (because of google's announced withdrawal of support) these programs will just stop working. No warning, no fanfare. Gone. Either OS updates or creative cloud or something of the likes and that's all folks.
As a relative newcomer to digital photography I am inclined to not pursue any additional understanding of these programs as they now promise such finite limitations. It seems prudent to instead focus back on enhancing photoshop and lightroom skills. What's hard about this is knowing that reading other people's views on Nik software, I will be missing out on some pretty awesome stuff and it's hard to know what that potential understanding could enhance. Will what I learn with Nik software be applicable to other programs and therefore prove worthwhile or will the journey end when you go to perform that favoured function of yours and the darn program won't open and do its magic thing?
I tried saying to a group of Photographers yesterday that I find the learning curb for digital photo development and enhancement just as exciting as I do learning the world of photography. I'm pretty sure they think I'm off my tree but no one said anything. I certainly won't put time into anything that's technology is redundant... except for DSLRs of course!!! LOL
In the days in which we now find ourselves as photographers we are all in danger of drowning in our work. We could listen at length to countless podcasts or youtube clips on managing our photos and all that stuff is most definitely out there but that's not what i want to talk about. What I want to address is a byproduct of swimming in the data stream that we have created for ourselves by snapping away like mad- when we capture everything we can, just in case we almost by accident capture what Henri Cartier-Bresson coined the decisive moment. A tangle of files, SD cards spilling over my desk, the only times I review my work is looking through computer files or preparing for a print. How are my colours? Composition and cropping, where am I at?
"...Now I'm printing anything that shows any merit."
I have recently found a better way to monitor my progress. I'm printing small and more regularly. I'm not merely saving my prints for what I see is a "wow" moment or something created of commercial value or indeed something that is commissioned commercially. No now I'm printing anything that shows any merit.
I've created the perfect review process via 'emersion' as the the education fraternity might put it. This means that during my creative process, during development and during editing in my office my work is surrounding me. Each time my eyes flick up to the walls I learn something. I learn what my eyes are more often drawn to. I learn what moods colour pallets are invoking. I learn where I have improved my ideas of composition and I have learned what in my work is still coming up short. My eyes return to failures over and over, a bad crop perhaps, soft focus, right subject wrong moment. I'm learning, learning with each step. This learning however is passive, pleasurable and perfectly paced. It may not be for everyone and in some ways for the super critical it can be downright torture but it is something worth trying.
Kyoto skyline, clouds mist and tiles
In 2016 I traveled to Japan for the first time. I found it to be a land of order, productivity, and fun. A land where Jazz and Classical music are still given the weight of appreciation they deserve. I still can not actually fathom how in a city like Tokyo, despite the incredible population, it has been organised to the point that in places close by like Ogikubo you can stare up the vacant streets in all directions almost forever and only occasionally see a bike whiz past or spy a man walking his dogs. It is a beautiful land. A land that takes no time to fall for- that gives you hot coffee in a can from a vending machine every so often (and cold beverages every three meters from every other vending machine all the time).
Its a danger when immersed in a culture so far from our own- not to live through the lens. To remember to as often as possible, pull back and experience the moment. If for no other reason than to really grasp the humanity of the new culture- its hard to see what you're dealing with if you're busy thinking up the next frame. My beautiful and patient partner would say I failed at this balance during this trip it was just too new and exciting, but I know she believes in me and the truly wonderful thing is I have always had her in my corner gently pointing me towards opportunities i would otherwise have missed. It is a process that continues in my life always.